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Visual Pollution

Disgusted About Billboards and Signage?

Hello folks,
I'm looking for a few folks who are as disgusted as I am about the proliferation of illegal banners and over-size signs, and multiple repetitive signs put out by establishments. There is no reason for this kind of visual pollution in Tucson. For example, every day I drive by a small building that has 4 extra-large banners and signs that say one word, "TATTOO" in huge, red letters.

The Chamber of Commerce is plotting to get these types of signage made legal. If you think this is wrong direction for our town, please shoot me an email at

Thanks, Lee Oler

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Debacle at the City Council Meeting November 17th, 2009

By Mark Mayer and Lee Oler

The ink was hardly dry on the judge's signature on the billboard settlement on Monday, November 16th, 2009, when things took a turn for the worse on Tucson sign control efforts. The next evening, the Mayor & Council bowed to the sign industry and the Chamber of Commerce and voted 5-2 to effectively bury a relatively minor banner control ordinance by continuing the item for 90 days. Councilmember Nina Trasoff joined Councilmember Leal in voting against Councilmember Rodney Glassman's substitute motion to continue the item into oblivion.

The proposed banner ordinance was not a major change, but would have simply reinstated the limitation that "sales event" banners could only be used a total of 90 days a year, not all year long. We have seen year-long "going out of business/grand opening" sales that last for months or even a year in some cases. This provision had previously been in place from 1992 to 2001, when it was surreptitiously taken out. Prior to that, between 1980 and 1992, such banners were not allowed at all, except for grand opening events. The ordinance would have also reduced the size limit from 90 square feet to 45 square feet for smaller stores. It also would have alleviated concerns of the law enforcement community by making the interior of stores more visible. Many banners now totally cover the windows of stores. Leal also pointed out that these butcher paper banners and so-called "temporary" banners provided by liquor distributors, discourage further investment in areas. He used the phrase "disincentivises investment in the community".

The draft ordinance had been shepherded by Councilmember Steve Leal for many months through numerous study sessions and public hearings before both the Citizen Sign Code Committee (CSCC) and the Mayor and Council and there had been no opposition to the ordinance until last night (except for some further weakening of the ordinance by the sign industry beyond the compromise that had already been made at the final CSCC meeting). The Mayor and Council first heard the ordinance on September 18 and only continued it then because the Arizona Multi-Housing Association had complained that they had not had time to review it. A meeting was held with the Association's representative, where it was pointed out that the ordinance only affected the General Business District and their members' apartment buildings were not in that district, but rather in the Multi-Family Residential District.

The delay, however, gave the Sign Industry and Chamber of Commerce (the latter had not come to any of the previous proceedings) to band together to attack the ordinance.

It was astounding to witness these council members talking about being "business friendly" every other phrase, but had little to say about the importance of community appearance, supporting neighborhoods, or bringing accountability to all of the currently illegal banners and other signage. It will only get worse with the changes in the City Council, so your active participation in confronting the upcoming sign code attacks is going to be crucial.

Please note that the two positive votes on this issue came from Councilmembers who will be leaving in a few weeks. In addition, Steve Leal has been the only councilmember who has attended or sent a representative to any meeting of the Citizen Sign Code Committee in the last 18 months.

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Good News to Report Out of Cochise County

Dear Billboard Watchers, Preventionists & Friends of Dark Skies:

Yesterday, the Cochise County Board of Supervisors voted unanimously (3-0) to uphold the Planning Zoning Commission's denial of special use permits for two 432 square-foot billboards on SR 90 in the unincorporated community of Whetstone (about 10 miles north of Sierra Vista). The applicant was Stott Outdoor Advertising of Chico, California.

Furthermore, the Board requested that the issue come back in work session to consider a permanent ban of billboards in Cochise County. Currently, billboards are only allowed in commercial and industrial zones and only allowed with a special use permit, but can be as large as 600 square feet. A temporary moratorium banning billboard construction had been adopted in 1988, but a permanent ban or further restrictions never came back for adoption.

Those who spoke in opposition at the public hearing were Lucinda Irvin and one other Whetstone resident; Bob Gent, David Healy and Keith Mullen of the Huachuca Astronomy Club; and Mark Mayer of Scenic Arizona. The only ones speaking in favor (as usual) were those that would directly benefit from the billboard revenues--the billboard company and the two property owners leasing the land for the billboard sites. Prior to the hearing, a petition with 118 signatures in opposition (mostly Whetstone residents) and 18 letters in opposition were submitted. See the Sierra Vista Herald article below for more details on the hearing.

The current issue is not entirely over as applications for two other billboards in Whetstone have been submitted by Jones Outdoor Advertising and will be heard by the Planning & Zoning Commission on February 11. Given the P&Z vote of 7-1 to deny in the Stott cases, the Board of Supervisors' unanimous vote yesterday, and the respective pronouncements by Supervisors English and Call to never again vote in favor of billboards and being totally opposed to billboards, one has to wonder why Jones would persist. The answer may be that they are setting up a legal challenge, as one of their execs or attorneys was feverishly taking notes in the back row during the Stott hearing. Hopefully this will not be the case, but it is ominous how Jones' attorneys muscled Pinal County into granting "variances" last July to allow six billboards removed for the Union Pacific Railroad double-tracking project to be "relocated" (which still has not occurred since the billboard were removed last May and hopefully never will).

Stay tuned for more as the Cochise County story develops.

The Sierra Vista Herald Newspaper

Board Says No to Whetstone Billboard Permits

By Shar Porier

Published: Wednesday, January 28, 2009 4:17 AM MST

BISBEE - Whetstone residents and backyard astronomers who opposed the installation of two billboards on Highway 90 can breathe easy now that the Cochise County Board of Supervisors denied the appeals submitted by Stott Outdoor Advertising.

The company appealed a county Planning and Zoning Commission vote made last month that denied the special-use permits due to community opposition.

Stott proposed the installation of two, double-sided, lighted billboards that would be 35 feet tall. The plan was to install them at the intersections of Highway 90 and Allen Lane and Highway 90 and Redwing Lane.

At the meeting with the supervisors Tuesday, Brian Daubert, speaking on behalf of Stott Outdoor Advertising, made a case in support of having the billboard permits approved, noting the moratorium on billboards expired 90 days after the 1988 resolution was approved. He said the signs would only be available to local businesses, though just what local meant was not defined, and sign space not sold would be made available to nonprofit organizations at no cost.

A number of people spoke out against the billboards by signing petitions and sending in letters and e-mails. Only property owners Johnny Cooper and Annette Gerhardt who would turn a profit from the land leases spoke in favor of reversing the commissionís decision.

Even though Daubert was willing to give up a few feet in height and the illumination, the supervisors stood united and firm.

"Each community is different and has the ability to speak for itself. Whetstone has spoken on these issues," Supervisor Richard Searle said.

Supervisor Ann English was clear in her view. "At this moment, I cannot envision saying Ďyesí to another billboard," she said.

English was a member of the board in 1988 when the moratorium was enacted. She was disappointed the county planning and zoning department staff did not move forward with a complete ban on billboards. "I donít support billboards," Supervisor Pat Call said. "Iím proud of our views and billboards threaten those views ... The residents have spoken quite loudly."

Call said he would request a work session to discuss a billboard policy, but Searle said, "I like that people can ask and we can then leave it up to the residents to decide."

"Two years ago, the board approved a billboard in St. David, but that was only because the community did not offer opposition," Searle said.

* * *

Herald/Review reporter Shar Porier can be reached at 515-4692 or by e-mail at

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More Good News to Report Out of Cochise County

Dear Billboard Watchers, Preventionists & Friends of Dark Skies,

There is the following good news to add. Yesterday, Jones Outdoor Advertising withdrew its two applications for special use permits to build billboards in the unincorporated community of Whetstone in Cochise County. Along with the Board of Supervisors having upheld the denial of the two Stott Outdoor Advertising applications on Tuesday, that means that none of the four contemplated billboards will be built there. Stay tuned for further developments to see if Cochise County joins Santa Cruz and Coconino Counties to become the third county to prohibit billboards (or, alternatively, adopts very restrictive regulations that amount to a near ban as Pima County has done).

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